Once, during the recital of the defendant, Sara almost seemed to bleed her tears, so poignantly terrible they came, scorching her eyes of a pain too exquisite to be analyzed, yet too excruciating to be endured.
Venture back, will you, to the ice and red of that Russian dawn when on the snow the footsteps that led toward the horizon were the color of blood, and one woman, who could not keep her eyes ahead, moaned as she fled, prayed, and even screamed to return to her dead in the bullet-riddled horse trough.
Toward the noon of that day, a gray one that smelled charred, a fugitive group from a distant village that was still burning faltered, as it too fled toward the horizon, in the blackened village of Vodna, because a litter had to be fashioned for an old man whose feet were frozen, and a mother, whose baby had perished at her breast, would bury her dead.
Huddled beside the horse trough, over a poor fire she had kindled of charred wood, Hanscha, the midwife (Hanscha, the drunk, they called her, fascinatedly, in the Pale of generations of sober women), spied Mosher’s flung coat and reached for it eagerly, with an eye to tearing it into strips to wrap her tortured feet.
A child stirred as she snatched it, wailing lightly, and the instinct of her calling, the predominant motive, Hanscha with her fumy breath warmed it closer to life and trod the one hundred and eight miles to the port with it strapped to her back like a pack.
Thus it was that Schmulka, the red twin, came to America and for the first fourteen years of his life slept on a sour pallet in a sour tenement he shared with Hanscha, who with filthy hands brought children into the filthy slums.
Jason, she called him, because that was the name of the ship that carried them over. A rolling tub that had been horrible with the cries of cattle and seasickness.
At fourteen he was fierce and rebellious and down on the Juvenile Court records for truancy, petty trafficking in burned-out opium, vandalism, and gang vagrancy.
In Hanscha’s sober hours he was her despair, and she could be horrible in her anger, once the court reprimanding her and threatening to take Jason from her because of welts found on his back.
It was in her cups that she was proud of him, and so it behooved Jason to drink her down to her pallet, which he could, easily.
He was handsome. His red hair had darkened to the same bronze of the samovar and he was straight as the drop of an apple from the branch. He was reckless. Could turn a pretty penny easily, even dangerously, and spend it with a flip for a pushcart bauble.
Once he brought home a plaster-of-Paris Venus—the Melos one with the beautiful arch to her torso of a bow that instant after the arrow has flown. Hanscha cuffed him for the expenditure, but secretly her old heart, which since childhood had subjected her to strange, rather epileptical, sinking spells, and had induced the drinking, warmed her with pride in his choice.